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The Fifth Annual History Book Festival in Lewes Kicks Off This May 

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The History Book Festival features both narrative nonfiction and historical fiction. Bestselling novelist Alice Hoffman chatted with Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild founder Maribeth Fischer at the 2019 event./Photo by Deny Howeth

Delawareans prepare for a summer filled with historical fiction, nonfiction and more at the annual History Book Festival in Lewes.

Get ready, Lewes, as the History Book Festival kicks off its fifth year with a special treat: free admission and a historical dive into literature.    

This book festival is unlike any other, with a specific look into historical fiction and nonfiction genres and presentations from keynote speakers like Lisa Scottoline, author of Eternal, and best-selling author of the novel Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly  

“We’re starting the virtual festival on May 20 with Lisa Scottoline, and normally our keynote speaker is a ticketed event, but we’ve decided during COVID to make this year’s events free as a gift from us to the community to say thank you for staying with us through all this,” says Jen Mason, co-founder and co-chair of the History Book Festival. “Then on June 3, we will feature Julia Sweig, who has a new biographyLady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sightout followed by a different speaker every week.”   

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Blanche Weisen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt’s biographer, chats with Paul Sparrow, Director of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum to a sold-out crowd in Lewes. The event was broadcast on CSPAN’s BookTV./Photo by Deny Howeth

David Cieri, composer and recording artist for the Ken Burns documentary “The Roosevelts” also performed with his colleagues at the 2018 event./Photo by Deny Howeth

This year’s festival will be virtual, but that doesn’t stop the spirited discussions every Thursday during happy hours with local authors, best-selling novelists and historical buffs alike. The talks give audiences the chance to deep dive into the creative genius of some of the most intriguing storytellers and authors worldwide.  

“Two to three years ago now, we had an author who wrote a horror novel about the Donner party called The Hunger by Alma Katsu—who works as an intelligence analyst—and she said,I’m not a historian, but I’m a really good researcher,’ says Mason. “And so, she went on site, she followed the path of the Donner party to be able to put herself there, to get these materials to tell this story. 

“She said that she learned that you can’t tell a horror directly,” she adds. “If she told the president something awful straight on, natural defenses come up and they can’t hear it, so you have to come at that obliquely, and that’s sort of a skill learned to be able to be a horror novelist.” 

Sitting with these authors, whether in person or virtually, literary buffs can learn background information on how research is done, how story lines are developed and how to ask those hard-hitting questions that thousands are wondering, like what body parts the Donner party ate (the liver?) or what the trek was like and how long it lasted. Being able to understand these interesting tidbits is the inspiration behind bringing this annual festival to the Lewes community.  

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Getting to chat with authors and get books signed is a fun part of the in-person events. Here Michelle Meadows, Rachel Dougherty, and Patricia Valdez sign the picture books about trailblazing women in history after their children’s literature panel discussion./Photo by Deny Howeth

“I own a little book shop in Lewes—Biblion Book Shop—and I was thinking about events that could be fun in town,” Mason says. “I started looking into book festivals as a possibility and it seemed like the perfect place because Lewes is very walkable, its super hospitable and it could be super fun.” 

“The thing I realized was that at most of the big festivals, the history authors were not exactly the stars, and obviously history is the star in Lewes,she notes. “So, it was a natural connection to be able to highlight those authors and draw some amazing talent to Delaware.”   

Jen Mason has plans to bring the festival back in-person, but, for the time being, this virtual event will bring a different author, event speaker and more to the Delaware community all summer long.  

To register for an event or purchase a book, check out HistoryBookFestival.org